The clichéd Hollywood saying “But what I really want to do is direct” comes from a very understandable place for anyone who works in the industry. The level of control and celebrity given to directors is a much sought after prize and one that is often envied by everyone working around them. There are those however, who take control of films a step further and take on the role of director, writer, and lead actor. Most recently notable for his starring roles in (500) Days of Summer, 50/50, and The Dark Knight Rises, Joseph Gordon-Levitt stepped up to take on this challenging triple threat of responsibilities with his new movie Don Jon. Blast Magazine sat down with Levitt to talk about the movie, his first experience with feature-length directing, and the future of him and his D.I.Y. art collective Hitrecord.
“I had a great time,” Levitt said when asked how his first experience behind the camera was. “It was a huge advantage to both create the character of Jon and then play him. Usually when you get a movie script you maybe have three months to get into the right mindset for a character and try to understand what the writer and the director wants you to convey. With Don Jon, I had Jon gestating in my head for years. On top of that I get to control the music, cinematography, and see everything come together as it happens.”
Gordon-Levitt, having himself been a part of the entertainment industry since the late 80s, was the grandson of actor/director Michael Gordon. Though Gordon-Levitt says he has great respect for his grandfather, he confesses to never actually seeing any of his movies.
“I’ve been saving them for when I think I’m ready to watch them,” Levitt explained. “I didn’t really get to know him personally when he was alive and it’s going to be a very intense experience to see what he worked so hard on now that he’s gone.”
Though Don Jon is Gordon-Levitt’s premier into full length writing/directing, he said he knew what kind of movie he wanted to make from the start.
“I like comedies where the laughs come from something people can empathize with rather than just goofy gags.” Levitt explained “Stuff in the vein of The Graduate, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and hell, (500) Days of Summer.”
In Don Jon, Gordon-Levitt portrays Jon Martello; a self-obsessed ladies’ man who is famous among his friends for being able to “pull” any woman he wants. Jon, despite his promiscuous lifestyle, actually prefers to masturbate to pornography rather than have sex. While the movie has several moments of him watching and pleasuring himself to pornography, Gordon-Levitt says he never felt the scenes were at all compromising.
“I think the scenes may have felt uncomfortable to some people because it touches on something personal.” said Levitt, “All my favorite movies seem like they divide people, and my biggest concern with this movie was to make something that I was really proud of. I think it’s a healthy story to tell and I stand behind it.”
While on one level, the character of Jon can be seen as an almost cartoonish portrayal of a Jersey Shore cast member, the plot reveals that there is a deep-seeded emotional disconnect within Jon that makes him a subject worth studying.
“Jon is a man who sees everything in his life as an object on a shelf.” Gordon-Levitt said while describing Jon’s mental state. “His friends, his family, his religion, and his health are all things that just serve him. Him watching pornography is the main symbol of that. Everything is a one way street.”
Don Jon boasts a cast of notable talent, including Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, and Scarlett Johansson, who portrays Jon’s somewhat traditional girlfriend, Barbara. Gordon-Levitt noted that she was not picked for this role simply due to name recognition.
“The role was written with Scarlett in mind,” Gordon-Levitt told us. “She’s an amazing talent and extremely multifaceted. There’s not a large pool of talent that can pull off something like Vicky Christina Barcelona and then go on to be able to do S.N.L. and be equally entertaining. Tony Danza was another actor that came to mind naturally. The only problem with him is he is such a class act while his character is misogynistic dick. I had to keep telling him ‘I still like you too much, try to be a worse person.’ ”
While Gordon-Levitt is taking his first shot at directing a full length movie, his creative endeavors have not just been limited to acting for some time now. In 2005, he along with his brother Dan created the online art collaborative group Hitrecord. The company’s logo appears at the beginning of Don Jon, and Gordon-Levitt credits the site with helping the movie to get made.
“I wouldn’t have been ready to make this movie without that community’s help,” said Gordon-Levitt, “It was a much different experience from working in a regular movie production and forced me to be open to a lot of people’s ideas. While we’re making a T.V. show at the moment, I’d love to make another movie with the company sometime in the future.”
With minimal spoilers, Don Jon is a movie with a mostly optimistic outlook for its main character by the end. This is an extreme contrast to the original Don Juan, one of literature’s most famous tragic figures. Gordon-Levitt says this was not a mistake.
“I wanted to strike a balance between tragic and hopeful. The philosophy of the film is about habits and patterns, which can be good but also trap us. I wanted to draw the comparison to show that even an inherently doomed character like Don Juan has hope.”
Don Jon opens nationwide on September 27